Why lesser policing is better than policing through TS-COP app for Telangana citizens

The hacking of the policing app TS-COP has probably brought normalcy back to Telangana, as there won’t be teenagers being sent to jail for petty offences, no cordon and searches, and a little less cybernetic oppression, at least for a while.
Why lesser policing is better than policing through TS-COP app for Telangana citizens
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Over the last decade, the Telangana Police has amassed giant surveillance infrastructures by creating 360 degree profiles of every resident in the state. At the heart of it is TS-COP, the police department’s flagship mobile application that allows the police to control the citizenry. The state also has over a million cameras and a large command and control centre that can process and store the information from all these cameras. These surveillance infrastructures power real-time policing. 

TS-COP is the face of an interconnected policing system that allows the police to access all criminal databases across India. After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs created the Crime and Criminal Networks and Tracking Systems (CCTNS) to digitise policing and create a network connecting all police stations. The aim was to help increase surveillance capacity after the intelligence failures that led to the 26/11 attacks. 

CCTNS integrates first information reports, chargesheets, National Vehicle Registry-Vaahan, FASTag, and several other national databases with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). TS-COP is an application built on top of the CCTNS platform. This means that TS-COP has access to all the criminal database networks and tracking systems at NCRB, plus additional databases and computer networks that the Telangana police has access to. 

It has been over a decade since the formation of Telangana state, but the police department is yet to officially release a police manual to the public. The state police manual lists various policing procedures that have to be followed by police constables and inspectors as part of the investigation process under various penal codes. With the introduction of the TS-COP app, policing procedures prescribed in the manual have been entirely ignored, with the mobile app modules becoming the default policing procedure.  

Various modules of the TS-COP app help police personnel carry out day-to-day policing activities such as beat policing, traffic policing, and even their leave management. Police officials in Telangana perform their duties based on various modules that have been digitised in the TS-COP app. 

Read: How inadequate security checks led to massive data breach in Telangana police app 

A press release from 2018 describes 54 services of the TS-COP app clubbed under different categories. A list of the services is given towards the end of this report. Several of these services are now shut down until a comprehensive threat assessment is completed by Telangana Police. 

TS-COP provides integration of the criminal justice system for the police. The Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), which is considered as the next step after CCTNS, provides integration of e-courts, jails, forensic labs, and policing networks. The integration of various verticals actually help the police game the entire criminal justice system with information that is only available with them. 

The launch of the TS-COP app made it easier for police to record criminal activity and led to faster processing of crimes in courts. 

The outcomes can be best observed in the case of petty offences, where the police have been registering crimes by photographing people on the streets for public smoking, loitering, and/or street vendors selling food on footpaths. The police only take their photographs and collect their phone numbers, without informing people of the charges against them. They are then summoned to courts via WhatsApp with no further information on the case either. 

At the Nampally Metropolitan Court in Hyderabad, where petty offenders are produced, I have come across police routinely collecting confession statements from the accused accepting their crimes, with no representation by lawyers to be seen anywhere. Often in case of petty offences, there is a challan or jail time or both. A repeat offender can get jail time, TS-COP and the creation of criminal profiles is helping Telangana Police routinely help jail people who are committing repeated petty offences. 

Ignorance of law is not an excuse to violate it. But the police in this case have become the law itself, using a black box app whose functions nobody knows. The police want to enforce the law using their new digital tools, but it is only being enforced on marginalised class and caste groups who have no means of challenging this cybernetic oppression. 

Everyone who is profiled by the police is now stuck in a loop of surveillance, with social participation made tedious for them everywhere there are police background checks. Petty cases registered for lockdown rule violations during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused people to not get their passports processed in Telangana. 

The police have found a new weapon in cybernetics, which is being used ruthlessly without any safeguards for the citizenry. 

The integration of jails, police stations, and courts is leading to perpetual surveillance on people, with no option to get out of it. The police, as part of their surveillance activities, routinely monitor rowdy sheeters, method offenders, and history sheeters.

In Telangana, a special survey was carried out to geo-tag the houses of these offenders and to conduct mid-night surveillance as part of policing beats randomised through an algorithm using the TS-COP app. 

The random checks on people with criminal profiles over years have been turned into criminalisation of entire neighbourhoods with the practice of cordon and search. The police use TS-COP to check identification documents of every individual living in these streets. They also check the vehicle registration documents, gas connection documents, and challans of vehicles, all using TS-COP. 

Surveillance of the marginalised and their assets is not a new phenomenon in itself, but it has increased in scale with the introduction of these tools. These practices are now backed by data using geo-tagging crimes and categorising neighbourhoods as criminal. While no actual data is shared by police regarding the classification of certain neighbourhoods as criminal, they claim they are using data to justify these actions.

The codification and datafication of the criminal justice system is essentially abstraction and mathematisation of social orders, instead of actual rule of law. The codification is secretive and results in black box apps, with no way to understand how these systems work, which means that the only way to understand them is to break open the black boxes. Thus the hacking of TS-COP is not the larger concern here, as the actual illegality is the app itself. 

The hack of the TS-COP app has resulted in all these services being shut down and that has probably brought normalcy back to Telangana. For a while, there won’t be teenagers being sent to jail for petty offences, no cordon and searches, and a little less cybernetic oppression. When the rule of law itself is so bad, hacking the app appears to be the lesser evil. 

Even though a 20-year-old has been arrested for the hack of the app, it is unlikely that he had committed this, because no actual proof has been shared by the police. Even if this individual did do it, the blame is on the police for centralising all the information and building a giant surveillance infrastructure that is actually flawed to begin with. 

Here’s a list of all the services integrated under the TS-COP app:

  1. Emergency response services:

    1. Dial-100: Dial-100 calls are directly pushed to the nearest patrol car/Blue Colts and the app facilitates complete work flow for the Emergency Response System.

    2. Nearby Vehicles: Nearby patrol cars/Blue Colts based on current location.

    3. Nearby Officer: Nearby police officers based on current location.

    4. Leave a Buzz: Police SOS for additional force mobilisation.

    5. Local Contacts: Are- wise local contacts for emergency handling.

  2. Crime prevention services:

    1. Beat Management: GPS-enabled beats and point book visiting for improved visible policing.

    2. 3rd Eye: Suspect antecedent verification services against mobile number, Aadhaar number, vehicle number, voter ID , driving licence, PAN card, and ration card.

    3. MO Offenders Checking: GPS-enabled MO offenders and history sheeters listing and periodic checking management.

    4. Jail Release Management: Real time jail releases information directly pushed to field officers and the concerned Station House Officer (SHO).

    5. Crime Mapping: Area-wise crime history for directed patrolling and actionable intelligence.

    6. Fingerprint Verification: Matching suspect fingerprints with ex-convicts’ database from the field.

    7. Verify: Verify the crime history of a suspect against 16,000 courts data across India.

    8. Gun Licence Holders: Geo-tag gun licence holders and automate periodic checking.

    9. Community Policing: Identification of community-felt needs, addressing the felt needs, and tracking the status of the felt need.

  3. Crime detection services:

    1. Towers & Cams: Geo-tagging of area-wise cell phone towers and CCTV information and location-based map services for faster evidence collection.

    2. Incident Management: Incident alerts to nearest patrol cars/officers with entry and exit routes for organising vehicle/suspect checking.

    3. Look-out Notices: Collaborative efforts to tracing wanted, missing, and unknown dead bodies through lookout notices.

    4. C-DAT: According to the police this service helps with profiling and surveillance of repeat offenders’ profession and family, based on phone number, for timely apprehension of offenders. 

    5. Crime Scene Management: Initial responder’s crime head wise standard operating procedures and evidence collection tools.

    6. 360 Degree profile: Offenders 360-degree profile with entity resolution engine across the databases.

    7. Enterprise Search: Enterprise search on crime, criminals, victims, and witnesses from CCTNS database.

    8. Accused Search: Accused/suspect professional tree with relations from interrogation reports.

    9. Other State Offenders: Geo-tagged other state offenders who committed crime in Telangana.

    10. Toll eye: Track suspect vehicle/crime-involved vehicle details while passing through toll gates.

  4. Investigation related services:

    1. Petition Enquiry: Spot petition enquiry to bring accountability and transparency among field staff.

    2. Crime Scene First Responder: Crime scene first responder service to capture evidence and record witness statements before the disturbance of the scene.

    3. FIR & Petition Status: To know the status of FIR/petition from anywhere anytime from CCTNS.

    4. Case Sheets: Daily case progress updation by Investigation Officers for under investigation (UI) cases.

    5. Clues Teams: Complete Clues Team workflow management right from information receiving, to processing crime scenes and monitoring the status of forensic expert opinions.

    6. DSR: Automated Daily Situation Report of police stations and consolidation of the same at various higher levels/senior officers about the happenings in their jurisdiction.

    7. GCR: Grave Crime Report complete workflow to review grave crimes by supervisory officers.

  5. Courts and prosecution services:

    1. Charge Sheet Status: Spot updation of the status of charge sheet right from courts.

    2. Court Committal: Spot updation of the status of court committal right from courts.

    3. Court Transfer: Updation of the court transfer details from one to another.

    4. Court Case Dairy (CCD): Daily court proceeding updation right from court related to pending trial (PT) cases

    5. Summons & Warrants: Summons and warrants entry, entrustment, serving, and returning workflow management.

    6. Notice to Sureties: Serving notice to sureties in case of violation of court conditions.

    7. Proclamations & Attachments: Declaration of proclaimed offender and attachment of properties management.

    8. Court Disposal: Updation of court disposals such as convictions and acquittals.

    9. Stay Order: Updation of stay orders on investigations.

    10. Lok Adalat: Updation of lok adalat disposals such as conviction, compromises, and acquittals.

    11. Appeals: Appeals in the higher courts in stipulated time and to obtain necessary government approvals.

    12. Result of Appeals: Result of appealed case status update.

  6. Traffic wing services:

    1. Enforcement: Complete visibility on daily enforcement work with last mile drill down facility.

    2. Challan Payments: Total challan payments by violators via different channels.

    3. Detained Vehicles: Complete history of detained vehicles and release of vehicle.

    4. Team Deployment: Team deployment of various field teams using maps at the fingertip of the senior officers for better monitoring.

    5. Top Violators: Search-based top violators list to plan special drives to issue legal notice.

    6. Landmarks: Geo-tagged landmarks for traffic planning and clear congestion.

    7. Accident Analysis: Black spot analysis for preventive measures and to re- engineer with the help of other stakeholders.

    8. Parking Slots: Geo-tagged paid and free parking slots for event planning.

    9. Water Logging Points: Geo-tagged waterlogging points for advanced traffic planning during rainy seasons

    10. Accident Reporting: Accident first responder service to capture evidence from the spot.

  7. Actionable Intelligence related Services:

    1. Crime on Tracking: Provides intelligence on where patrol cars are moving and where crimes are reported.

    2. Crime Thematic Map: Crime thematic map to analyse crime-prone areas and take preventive measures.

    3. Accident Thematic Map: Accident thematic map to analyse accident-prone areas and take preventive measures.

    4. IPIH: Integrated People Information Hub to find a single source of truth across databases.

  8. Personnel related Services:

    1. Pay Slip: Monthly pay slips with all deductions, loans, and arrears of iIndividual employees.

    2. Leave Management: Online leave applications and approvals.

    3. Daily Performance Report: Time sheets for role-based police functions.

    4. Bhadratha and Arogya Bhadratha: Departmental life and medical insurance.

    5. Service Book: Personal record with all the postings, training, rewards, and punishments.

    6. My Learning: Individual learning history along with training-need identification process.

    7. Transfer Priority: Individuals can give their priority for next posting based on internal algorithms.

Srinivas Kodali is a hacktivist and researcher working on digitisation.

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